Category Archives: history

From Gow Jobs to Hot Rods

When is a hot rod not a hot rod? When it was built in the 1920s and 1930s.  At that time, a hot rod was called a “hop-up,” “soup-up,” or  “gow job” (from “gowed up,” meaning intoxicated).1  The typical gow job started from a Ford 4-cylinder Model A (1928-32) or Model B (1932-34) that had been stripped down and performance enhanced for speed.  As one hot rod enthusiast notes, “Hot rods are built to burn rubber.”2

A Model A’s top speed was 55 to 60 mph.  To increase this top limit, a gow job mechanic would remove anything unnessary – fenders, bumpers, windows – to improve the power to weight ratio.  The roof could also be lowered or the windshield removed. 

The real action was under the hood (if it still existed). The mechanic intent on speed could choose specialty parts from a variety of SoCal manufacturers.  Stripped down, souped up, a Model A or B could go 80-90 mph, with the fastest cars topping 100 mph.3 

Farmers with a talent for mechanical ingenuity took their souped up cars out on country roads to race.  Later, meets were held at dry lakes where the cars could really be opened up and safety was less of a concern.  One of the earliest timed dry lake meets was held at Muroc Lake, Kern County (now part of Edwards Air Force Base) in 1931.  By 1938, the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) was operating time trial meets, and over 300 racers participated at Muroc Lake.4

Hot rodding still attracts numerous car club enthusiasts throughout California, and the SCTA still holds land speed trials at Bonneville Flats, Utah, where some of the fastest .

 See a slice of Hot Rod history at the new exhibit

HOT RODS: Wheels in Fields

 Sponsored by 

 1 Gow was derived from “yao-kao” – Cantonese for opium. 2 Vincent, Peter, Hot Rod An American Original, 2001, MBI Publishing, St. Paul, MN.        3Montgomery, Don, Hot Rods As they Were, 1989, AM Graphics, San Marcos, CA. 4 Vincent.vehicles in the world come to make their mark on history. 

The Russell Steamer, Adding the Finishing Touch (3 of 3)

In blog post No. 2, it was noted that the water tank and fuel storage bin at the rear of the Russell Steamer were fabricated as part of the restoration process.  As a finishing touch, the Russell & Company trademark, with its characteristic snorting bull and the words, The Boss, were painted on each bin.  The images were signed by Roy Martinez.*

The company went through several name changes before it was ultimately dubbed Russell & Company in 1878.  Likewise, the Russell & Company trademark went through several permutations.  Roy Martinez’ version was based on an image on page 51 of the August 1915 issue of The American Thresherman and Farm Power.

Roy Martinez’ version is similar in many respects to the beautiful Russell & Company trademark displayed as a water tank decal on the National Russell Collectors Association website.  The snorting bull and The Boss are recognizably similar.  However, there are at least a half dozen (or more) differences between the two trademark images. 

How many differences can you find?  The person who identifies the greatest number of differences will win a prize from the Museum!**

The Russell & Company trademark, interpreted by Roy Martinez

The Russell & Company trademark, courtesy National Russell Collectors Association

 *Who was Roy Martinez?  If you know, please comment on this blog post.  **Please note – differences in the pastoral background scene count as one difference.

The Russell Steamer, a Feat of Restoration (2 of 3)

The Russell Steamer on view at the Heidrick Ag History Center today was the result of years of painstaking restoration. Fred Heidrick acquired it in the 1960s, and he and Joe Heidrick took the faded hulk and turned it into a gem.  Their efforts combined careful research, fine craftsmanship, and a penchant for detail to create a fully operational, restored steam traction engine.

The steamer was mostly intact when purchased.  A photo taken around the time of the 1967 state fair shows Fred at the controls.  A photo of Celeste Burnham, State Fair Model, cheerfully perched atop the steamer, also gives a good sense of its condition prior to restoration.

Several important parts were missing, however, including a shade canopy and water and fuel bins on either side of the rear platform. The steamer also lacked the Russell trademark with its characteristic snorting bull. Documents in the Heidrick archives reveal the meticulous care that was lavished on restoration projects. A letter dated July 28, 1970 to Mr. Neil McClure of Colchester, Illinois, requests photos to identify “…the spacing of the rivets on the fuel storage bins and water tanks, the [tank] measurements and other pertinent details…” A hand-drawn diagram (shown below) details the replacement tanks that were to be fabricated.

Similar attention was given to replicating the original paint colors:  black for the body; red for the flywheel, nose, and parts of the engine; yellow for the wheels, and silver for the smokestack. The desired location of each color was carefully drawn on a diagram of the steamer before it was painted.  Gold and silver trim were added for a decorative flair. The finishing touch was the handpainted Russell trademark on the water tanks (the subject of Blog 3).

The steamer was restored to operational condition, but has not been fired up for many years.  Help us bring this remarkable piece of machinery back to life by making a donation for reconditioning.  Visit our website at and select the Russell Steamer option in the drop-down menu.